MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Tomlin embodies Tribe's grit, attitude

In game of adjustments, righty steps up to help Indians to 2-0 ALCS advantage

Tomlin embodies Tribe's grit, attitude

CLEVELAND -- When the game was over, they staged a game. They had to. Too many Indians relievers have been getting too little (read: zero) work in this postseason, so the aftermath of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday featured a simulated session in which the Jeff Manships and Zach McAllisters of the so-called active roster could remember what it's like to face a batter in the box.

This is the team that was supposed to be scrambling its way through October, if it was even going to advance at all. With two stud starters gone -- and another momentarily compromised by a drone strike -- the Indians were supposed to be at the point of plucking a few people out of the fast-pitch stand in the Progressive Field concourse.

• ALCS Game 3: Monday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS/Sportsnet/RDS

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 14 CLE 2, TOR 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 15 CLE 2, TOR 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 17 CLE 4, TOR 2 video
Gm 4 Oct. 18 TOR 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 5 Oct. 19 CLE 3, TOR 0 video

Instead, this is the team that is up, 2-0, on the Blue Jays in the ALCS after a 2-1 victory Saturday that was a testament to Josh Tomlin's toughness and the usual suspects in a bullpen buoyed by Andrew Miller and his history-making slider. Game 3 is scheduled for Monday night in Toronto (8 p.m. ET on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS in Canada)

We could use this entire space to wax poetic about the trade pickup of Miller. But for a moment, let's zero in on the longest-tenured member of the Tribe -- the guy who best represents the adjustments that have gotten the Indians to a point that 24 of 27 previous LCS teams in a best-of-seven have capitalized upon, the guy whose guile far outmeasures his velocity, the guy who teammate after teammate calls, well, a favorite teammate.

"He's one of the easiest guys to root for," second baseman Jason Kipnis said of Tomlin. "He's had to work for all 89 mph on that fastball."

"Game 2 starter Josh Tomlin" would have been an insane phrase just two months ago, back when Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were still healthy and Tomlin was still struggling.

But rather than long for the days when people were still salivating over the Corey Kluber-Carrasco-Salazar trio and what it might mean on the October stage, the Indians have taken the rotation's remnants and Miller to darn near the doorstep of the Promised Land.

"We haven't shied away from anything," Kluber said.

Francona on Tomlin's performance

And that's the attitude that got Tomlin here in the first place. He was born with the competitive mindset of your prototypical Texas fireballer -- alas, with none of the fireball. Tomlin's dad used to make him throw balls to buckets in specific spots to fine-tune his command. If he missed his target, he'd have to chase the errant ball down and then start all over. He knew early on he didn't have the stuff of the guys getting major college offers and early-round attention. But if he could sink it, cut it, spin it for strikes, he could will his way to the Minor Leagues and then let the results dictate the rest.

"I've never been a stuff guy," Tomlin said, "so I've kind of relished every moment that I've had."

Had fate not intervened, Tomlin, a 19th-round Draft pick a decade ago, would have found himself on the fringes of the Indians' postseason roster. Heck, he probably would have been one of those guys throwing a simulated session Saturday night.

But they call this a game of adjustments, and that's applied both to the Indians' pitching staff at large and Tomlin in particular.

After going 11-3 with a 3.43 ERA, Tomlin had a miserable August -- 34 earned runs and 10 home runs in just 26 2/3 innings. His cutter wasn't cutting it. Right-handed batters were able to anticipate it on the outside edge of the strike zone, essentially turning on-the-black efforts into the equivalent of middle-middle. So Tomlin, cast out of the rotation in the midst of that unscheduled home run derby, dramatically reshaped his repertoire when injury led to opportunity late in the year, and he ditched the cutter and finished on a high note that led him to an effective five innings in the AL Division Series' Fenway finale.

"He's right up there [as one of the] the top command guys in baseball," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.

Against Gibbons' Jays, Tomlin adjusted again. Big time. The curveball had accounted for just 15 percent of Tomlin's pitches this season. Against the Blue Jays, he used it early and shockingly often -- 42.4 percent of the time, including eight on first pitches. The 36 curves he threw were a career-high.

Tomlin on his curveball

"I needed to establish I could throw it for a strike early on," Tomlin said, "and then it was a pretty good pitch."

So he just rolled with what was working, which should sound familiar.

The Indians have found a formula here, one that of course begins with the great advance work that has armed their coaching staff, the ability of those coaches to relay the relevant info and, yes, the ability of the players to execute. That wasn't just Tomlin, Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen in Game 2. It was also Rajai Davis forcing the issue on the basepaths in the third, looking for the tell in another slow-to-the-plate Jays starter and then swiping second on J.A. Happ and Russell Martin. When Happ uncorked a wild pitch, Davis sped off to third, and then he scored what turned out to be the winning run on a Francisco Lindor single.

Davis helps create run

The point is that the Indians don't have the Jays' homer-hitting prowess or healthy starting set, but -- so far, at least -- it's hardly mattered. They have been so efficient at taking down another AL East giant that Saturday became a doubleheader, of sorts, the ALCS entry serving as an appetizer for a sim session.

"All year, we've done little things that go unnoticed until we're in the position we're in now," Tomlin said. "We understand our style of baseball is good enough."

Good enough, it turns out, to get them two wins away from the World Series.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.